From The Times
March 11, 2008
’Simon de Bruxelles
Fire extinguishers may be removed from blocks of flats across Britain after they were deemed dangerous by buildings risk assessors at two blocks on the South Coast.
Many residents regard the distinctive red extinguishers as the first response to fire, giving vital time until professional firefighters arrive.
But a review of two residential blocks in Bournemouth has raised concerns that householders could delay their escape to tackle a blaze. There is also concern that the use of extinguishers by untrained people could add to the danger.
The report has the backing of Dorset Fire and Rescue Service and extinguishers have already been removed from the two blocks – Admirals Walk and the 10-storey Avon House.
Under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 the managing agents of every private block of flats must hire professional assessors to carry out a risk assessment .
Residents of Admirals Walk were informed in a letter from their managing agents that “unless all residents are trained to operate the fire extinguishers, there is no legal requirement to maintain these in communal areas of residential blocks”.
Hamilton Townsend, managing agents for Avon House, confirmed that the recommendation was to remove extinguishers.
Pete Whittaker, the protection policy manager at Dorset Fire and Rescue, said: “As part of the assessment, the assessors now look to see whether fire extinguishers are actually required in that particular block. In some cases, they are no longer needed and provide more of a hazard being there.
“We do not want to encourage people to leave their flat to fetch a fire extinguisher from a hallway and then return to a blaze. We want people to get out safely.
“Obviously in some cases, an extinguisher could come in useful in a communal area but with new building regulations, every escape route should be completely fireproof. It very much depends on the individual property and what the assessor believes is the correct course of action.”
Residents described the ban as ridiculous. Mike Edwards, a 61-year-old retired printer who lives in Avon House, said: “I was absolutely staggered to discover the fire extinguishers were to be taken out. How can removing fire extinguishers be a safe decision?
“The risk assessor said an extinguisher could cause a hazard if the person using it has not been trained. They are worried they will point it in the wrong direction or use the wrong extinguishers on a certain type of fire but if you are trapped in a burning building, you will certainly work out how to use an extinguisher.
“Our eldest resident is 103 but even she said she could quickly work out how to use an extinguisher in an emergency.” He added: “Our block is very high and there is one fire extinguisher in the communal area on every floor. People feel safe knowing they are there. The fire service can’t quickly get their equipment above the eighth floor. If someone is trapped above that level, are they just expected to sit and burn?”